Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

In Carlsbad, Parents Of Cancer Patients Plead For Answers


Some people who live in Carlsbad suspect that toxins in the ground, water and air are causing cancer and other illnesses. Desperate for answers, they’re calling for environmental tests.

Some people who live in Carlsbad suspect that toxins in the ground, water and air are causing cancer and other illnesses. Desperate for answers, they’re calling for environmental tests.


Carlsbad Cancer Connection

A growing list of sick and dying children has left some people in Carlsbad on edge. Six-year-old Kelsey Devich died of leukemia in 2005. Seventeen-year-old Michelle Butler died of leukemia in 2007. And last December, 16-year-old Chase Quartarone died of lymphoma. Stacey was his mom.

“He had so many passions. He loved to cook. He was a chef. And he played the piano and he was an artist like you can’t imagine. He painted and sculpted. He loved athletics. He was so physically fit. I always said he looked like Michelangelo’s David with his gorgeous long, long locks,” she said.

Stacey said Chase had been in perfect health.“And then one day he got sick at 15 and it came from nowhere. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma b-cell fast growing, aggressive,” she said.

The Quartarones believe pesticide residues in the soil might be making people sick. Carlsbad was once an agricultural town where fruit orchards, tomato fields and flower farms covered the land. In those days, powerful pesticides like Arsenic and DDT – which are now banned – were commonly used.

Stacey, her husband John and other parents who have lost children have started tracking cancer cases over the last five years. They say at least 15 children within their neighborhood have been stricken with cancer. Four have died. The Quartarones say there are 265 cases of cancer within a three-mile radius.

The California Cancer Registry has asked Thomas Mack, a cancer epidemiologist at USC’s medical school, to review updated cancer data from Carlsbad.

“That’s a very low number. I would expect many more cancer cases over five years,” he said. “About a third of us are going to get cancers. Cancers occur at a rate of about 400 cases per 100,000 people per year. The question is, is there an outbreak of cancer in Carlsbad of any kind? And the answer is no.”

But Philip Ziring, professor of clinical pediatrics at UC San Francisco, says that’s the wrong question.

“Focusing on cancer incidence with the cancer registry is not the only way of looking at what’s going on here. It’s by getting in there and checking the soil, perhaps the water and the air.”

Ziring says it takes years for cancer to develop. And by environmental testing, experts can check to see if residual pesticides are causing health problems now.

“People in the community have had a variety of illnesses, especially children with brain tumors, individuals with skin conditions, problems with infertility.”

Staff at Carlsbad’s Kelly Elementary School have asked the school district to test the soil, water and air to see if there are pollutants that might be making them sick. Several teachers at Kelly, like Jenifer Jaffe, have developed cancer.

“I have always said I don’t know what caused my cancer. But even if there’s a 5 percent to 10 percent chance, test the soil,” said Jaffe.

But Carlsbad Unified School District Superintendent John Roach says testing is premature.

“I believe it’s prudent on behalf of the school district to wait for the information they’ve provided to the County Health Department, who is passing that on to state health agencies to examine the number of cancers in Carlsbad to determine if in fact it’s greater than one would expect,” said Roach.

State law does not require the school district to do such tests unless they are building a new campus or expanding an existing one.

When the district recently built new athletic fields at Carlsbad High School, the soil was tested and pesticides like arsenic, chlordane and dieldrin were found and cleaned up. Also, two miles east of Kelly Elementary, at the proposed site for a new high school, arsenic and petroleum were found in the soil and removed.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.